Setting SMART Goals To Combat Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States that shows no signs of slowing down. According to Harvard university, one out of every six children in the United States is obese, and one in three children are overweight or obese (Harvard School of Public Health, 20161) This is highly concerning news since childhood obesity in linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, bone and joint problems, respiratory issues, sleep disorders, fatigue, and more (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 20192). As parents, it’s incredibly important to understand what behaviors lead to obesity, and what you can do to prevent or reverse it.

Creating Healthy Habits

Addressing weight concerns in children is a delicate subject. It’s always best to consult with a reliable healthcare practitioner prior to making any major changes in your child’s diet or lifestyle. Since children are still developing, getting adequate nutrition is incredibly important to maximize their long-term wellbeing. The impacts of poor nutrition early in life can be severe and long-lasting, so a weight-loss protocol for children should be done with appropriate care to avoid any potential harmful effects (Roberts et al., 19793). Similarly, the incomplete psychological development of children leaves them vulnerable to lasting effects from harmful dietary restrictions and language around weight loss (Smolak & Levine, 20074).  

With all of these concerns in mind, the wisest strategy for helping your child reach a healthy weight should be focused on teaching them how to live an overall healthy lifestyle, and giving them the tools they need to do so. Instilling good habits around food, exercise, sleeping and screen time can all go a long way in helping them reach a healthy weight (Deslippe et al., 20225). In order to do this, you’ll need to set up some goals. Breaking down habits into small actionable steps will help you monitor improvements, keep both of you accountable, and it will allow your child to feel the reward of taking measurable action. So how do you begin this goal setting process?

Setting SMART Goals

For goals to be effective, they should follow the SMART acronym. They should be: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Choosing something specific could be as small as aiming to eat two servings of vegetables per day or limiting screen time to two hours. These are clear objectives with measurable results. The next thing to consider is whether a goal is relevant or not. This is essential, because putting your and your child’s effort into misdirected goals won’t get them any closer to the outcome you want.

The realistic component of SMART goals is perhaps the most common area for parents to slip up on. Parents usually care deeply about their child’s health which can make them determined to make major changes. The trouble with this over enthusiastic approach is that either the child, the parent, or both may be overwhelmed by any abrupt lifestyle changes and unable to persevere long enough to see significant results. Slowly adding on new habits at a realistic pace is a much more manageable approach that will set you up far better success long-term.

Finally, you’ll need to create goals that are time-bound. This means they need to have a solid deadline rather than an open-ending “someday” approach. Otherwise, it’s incredibly easy to continually put things off and never get around to making the changes you wanted to see for your child. A timeline sets habits into motion and lets you know if you’re on track. It also gives you an opportunity to check-in and reassess any parts of your plan that aren’t working.

Overcoming Obstacles and Staying on Track

After you’ve set up some SMART goals for you and your child, you’ll need to continue to put in effort, track progress, and adjust anything that isn’t effective. It’s rare for life to ever go perfectly according to plan. You’ll likely encounter unforeseen circumstances and setbacks, but the trick is to not let this completely derail your efforts. To avoid this pitfall, you’ll need to do your best to account for barriers, and flexibly adapt whenever you encounter them. For example, perhaps you foresee that skipping your child’s usual dessert will cause a major upset that delays bedtime and sets them up for a sleep-deprived following day. Taking this obstacle into account and simply swapping their usual dessert for a healthier alternative may be a better course of action instead. 

In the end, there is no one size fits all approach to helping your child reach and maintain a healthy weight. It’s highly dependent on their temperament, your lifestyle, personal preferences, and much more. The best you can do is create a solid set of healthy habits under the guidance of medical advice, and continually adapt and overcome obstacles throughout all the inevitable ups and downs of life. It may take some serious effort, but the payoff of giving your child their best shot at a long healthy life will no doubt be worth it a hundred times over.

This information does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please see full disclaimer.

References

  1. Harvard School of Public Health. (2016). Child obesity. Obesity Prevention Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends-original/global-obesity-trends-in-children/
  2. Childhood Obesity Foundation. (2019). What are the complications of childhood obesity?. Childhood Obesity Foundation. https://childhoodobesityfoundation.ca/what-is-childhood-obesity/complications-childhood-obesity/ 
  3. Roberts, I. F., West, R. J., Ogilvie, D., & Dillon, M. J. (1979). Malnutrition in infants receiving cult diets: A form of child abuse. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/1/6159/296.abstract 
  4. Smolak, L., & Levine, M. P. (2007). Toward an empirical basis for primary prevention of eating problems with elementary school children. The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10640269408249128 
  5. Deslippe, A., Bains, A., Loiselle, S., et al. (2022). SMART goals of children of 6–12 years enrolled in a family-centred lifestyle intervention for childhood obesity: Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Pediatric Obesity. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ijpo.12973

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